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Published: July 17th 2015
Took the train for an hour from Meknes to Fes. Had a little trouble finding a hotel, finally saw a sign to Riad Louna/ We followed the signs round one corner after another along increasingly narrow alleyways, finally arriving at the front door. It was like entering a magic world through a nondescript door into this beautiful house. A courtyard with palm trees and orange trees a trickling fountain in the centre and 3 floors of rooms around this. We took one on the top floor, unfortunately the ‘en-suite’ was on the ground floor. Had tea and sweet things on the roof terrace then set off to wander the medina.
It was initially quite a confusing maze but we got the pattern of the streets, two main ones and then you concentrate on landmarks each time you turned off. The medina is the main attraction of Fes with its mosques, madrasas and the tanneries. We were therefore quite surprised at both the lack of tourists and that the shops of the souqs were in the majority for locals and not he tourist trade, as was the case in Marrakech. Stopped for mint tea in a roof top café after walking
through the carpenters’ area where they make wedding carriages and canopies, you come out of there and into a lovely plaza. Below the café were copper workers banging away. Wandered on towards the tanneries. We learnt quickly in Marrakesh medina not to trust anyone when they say ‘this way’ or when they start following you and are friendly and say they only want to be your friend, when you make absolutely clear you are not going to pay them, they finally sulk off cursing you. Both situations happened a lot here too regarding directions to the tanneries, fortunately the lady in the café had given us clear directions. Then at a T-junction one young man lent across the alleyway that was sign posted and another insisted we follow him to the tannery because the other way was closed. We followed for a minute and then turned round and said we weren’t interested, so he left us and we were able to go back and down the now unblocked other alley-way! Went in through a narrow doorway and up steep winding staircase to a leather shop to find their terrace overlooking where the traditional tannery is. It looks exactly as the
photos show. Lots of wells, some white some brown with coloured dyes in them. When we went back again the next morning the process was explained to us and the white holes are for removing the fur and softening the leather using bird guano. The brown holes are where the leather gets dyed, yellow is saffron, blue is from indigo, brown from cedar wood, that’s what I can remember and some mixes. Yellow is the favoured colour for men’s pointy-toed shoes here because it shows wealth!
Other points of interest were two beautifully ornate madrasas, lots of carved wood and filigree plasterwork. The main mosque is huge, the biggest in Africa, but it’s right in amongst the tightly packed alleyways so there is no view of it except from above when you see the big pyramidal green roof and the minaret.
In the evenings we ate in restaurants with roof top terraces overlooking the blue gate. There are lots of market traders here and a good number of places to eat. It was fascinating to observe the pre-iftar preparations. One group of men below us had bottles of Miranda orange, water and cartons of milk as well as
baguettes and a big tagine sitting in front of them for about half an hour before the canon fired and the call to prayer rang out. As soon as this happened the noise and shouting of the market stopped as everyone could finally drink and eat. It’s a long day when you’re working in hot temperatures with 17 hours without drinking. For the group of men below us the whole meal was gone within 10 minutes!
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